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Archive for Sunday, July 1, 2007

Rain dampens harvest forecast

July 1, 2007

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— One year after a drought shriveled up much of the state's wheat crop, farmers this year are seeing their harvests shrink from too much precipitation.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has cut its estimates of Oklahoma's wheat harvest yet again. Friday's forecast put it at 141.9 million bushels.

The USDA's prediction is 10 million bushels less than its forecast only a few weeks ago, and 20 million bushels lower than the prediction last month.

"It's probably over for this year," said Tom McCreight, chief executive officer of Equity Marketing Alliance, which markets 46 grain elevators statewide.

"The fields are just saturated, and you can't get in with machines" such as combines and tractors, he said. "What's left is deteriorating. What's left is not good or worthy of harvesting."

Oklahoma's version of a monsoon season has pounded fields until they are too muddy for equipment. In the meantime, some uncut wheat has started sprouting - meaning that the grain bursts prematurely.

"There's a lot of wheat out there that producers are not going to get to at this time," said Oklahoma Wheat Commission spokesman Mike Schulte. "We missed our opportunity."

Schulte estimated that wheat producers will choose not to harvest more than 300,000 acres, hoping to cut their losses with crop insurance or disaster relief.

"It's still going to be a difficult year for the producer," he said. "They had hopes of something to take to market."

Those ambitions rose out of last year's dry harvest of about 81 million bushels. This year, however, higher wheat prices are nothing but a cruel irony to many farmers who watched Army worms, a late freeze, rust and incessant moisture take their toll.

McCreight estimated that his grain elevators are only seeing about 25 percent of their usual product coming to market. Fields that lie north of Interstate 40 are totaling only one-fifth of the five-year production average, he said.

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